PALMDALE — If Knight boys soccer coach Baltazar Mendez wasn’t wet from the rain Thursday afternoon, he was after the Hawks had wrapped up the Golden League title.
Mendez was doused with an ice bath by one of his players following the Hawks’ 1-1 tie with Palmdale in the regular-season finale at Knight High School.
Knight (15-2-6, 10-1-3) had already clinched its fifth league title, and first since 2015, before the Hawks stepped onto the soggy field against third-place Palmdale (9-6-4, 8-5-1). Knight finished third in league last season.
“We have a very good group,” Mendez said. “A lot of these guys, we’ve had them for four years already. This was nice. This was great for them.
“It was our senior night tonight, so we have to celebrate our seniors. We get them playing time. Overall we did what we had to tonight. We made sure we came out with at least a point, so we could get the league by ourselves. Other than that we worked in players. We have to be careful with our players to get to the playoffs and make sure they are healthy. That’s what we did. We played a lot of players and tried to just get over with this match.
“At the end of the day, we lost concentration a little bit there. In this type of game you can’t do that.”
Although the heavy rain that fell on the Valley early Thursday relented and cleared by game time, the field was left slick and muddy in spots and clearly affected play. The game would have been played under almost any condition, excluding lightning, because it was the final day of the regular season and the CIF-Southern Section playoff brackets will be released on Saturday.
The Hawks scored in the 25th minute, when Knight junior Kenny Oropeza struck from five yards out on a pass from Fabian Duran.
“It was important for us to get the win, but a tie did us good,” Oropeza said. “We got Golden League. That’s all we needed.
“The main goal was get on the field and score some goals. It’s just what you need to do when you’re a forward. It’s very important and I completed that. I was very excited.”
Both teams had scoring opportunities early in the first half.
Knight senior Javier Gusman had a corner kick in the 13th minute deflected by Palmdale goalie Alan Martinez. Duran kicked the rebound wide left.
Knight junior Anthony Roque had a free kick from 25 yards out deflected in the 18th minute and a rebound shot by senior Evan Rodriguez was high.
Palmdale senior Nelson Ortez had a shot go wide right on a free kick from 15 yards out in the ninth minute and senior Edwin Arojan had a shot go high from 25 yards on in the 19th minute.
Palmdale appeared to tie the game in stoppage time at the end of the first half, as senior George Chavez chipped in a shot after senior Javier Garcia had a free kick from 20 yards out deflected, but Chavez was whistled for offsides.
The game was also physical at times, with Knight receiving three yellow cards and Arojan receiving a red card in the 36th minute, leaving the Falcons down a man for the remainder of the match.
“These guys the last four games of the season, my guys have been showing a lot of heart for the game,” Palmdale coach Christian Hernandez said. “We come out to win games. We don’t sit back on teams. As you can see, 10 men down we are still attacking and still getting some opportunities. That’s what we’ve been doing. We figured something out, I think at the right moment, going into playoffs. We’re happy for what these guys did on the field with 10 guys today on the field.
“As coaches you want to see that fight most of all. You’re already down a goal, so we’ve got to get over that hill. I thought it was coming at times. We’re where we want to be going into playoffs, I could tell you that. It was a good game. It didn’t help that we got called for that red card. It is what it is. We move forward as a team and we got the tie that we were fighting for.”
The Falcons entered the game with a three-game winning streak after a 2-0 loss to second-place Eastside on Jan. 18.
Palmdale played even with Knight in the second half, despite being down a player.
The Falcons tied the match in the 75th minute, with sophomore Brian Trujillo chipping in a shot to spark a celebration for Palmdale, which finished second in league last season.
Edgar Rios took a corner kick for the Falcons and a teammate returned the ball to Rios in the corner and found Trujillo near the far post with a cross pass and the tying goal.
Knight missed its best opportunity at the beginning of the second half, when Evan Rodriguez sailed a penalty kick high in the third minute of the second half, following a collision of players in the box.
Oropeza had a shot from 20 yards out deflected by a diving Martinez in the 32nd minute.
“It was very important for us to win this game,” Oropeza said. “We at least got the tie and that’s what we wanted. We got Golden League and that’s all that matters to us. We have a lot of emotions. It was a very important goal and we knew we needed that at the time.”
Besides getting their six seniors playing time, Mendez said senior Martin Jaramillo receiving a yellow card in the ninth minute also affected the Hawks’ game plan.
“The whole match, right from the beginning, we lost our center back to a yellow card,” Mendez said. “We sat our center back for a long time, because we don’t want him to get a second yellow card and lose him for playoffs. Everything affected the game. We had to adjust and play with what we had.
“We had to be careful with the field conditions and the rain and make sure we keep them healthy for the playoffs. Bottom line, that’s what we’re thinking now.”
Knight beat Palmdale 3-2 on Dec. 19.